See Yale and die?

Colleges and Universities are beginning their new academic year. When I was still teaching, I used to enjoy the week before classes began when you saw new students excitedly arriving on campus with their families to move into the dorms. It was a feeling of new beginnings and possibilities. My university had a whole slew of programs during orientation week for new students that were a mixture of information providing and socializing. At the end of it just before classes began, we had a big culminating event for all the new students in the huge Severance Hall, home of the famed Cleveland Orchestra. I would be one of the speakers at this event and each year, I would try to get students excited about what I felt was the chief attraction of being at a university.

The main thrust of my remarks was that their time at the university offered them something that they would never get anywhere else after they left, and that was easy access to good information. I told them that they could talk to to faculty who were experts in many fields who were only too happy to share their knowledge with anyone who asked. I said that we had wonderful libraries and librarians who were only too eager to help students find information. And all this was just there for the asking and they should make full use of it during their time there.

In general, I strove to strike an uplifting tone. But that was before there was a pandemic. This year students and parents and faculty and staff have a sense of foreboding, wondering if there will be fresh outbreaks that will cause everything to shut down again. While universities have taken measures to maintain physical distancing, mask wearing, and testing to reduce the chances of infections spreading, they have no control over what goes on off-campus and there have been many reports of students packing bars and other places without masks. Already some universities (including University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Notre Dame) that started with in-person classes have gone back to online after just a week after new clusters of infections were reported.

But a letter from a Yale faculty member and administrator to new students struck a particularly grim tone, suggesting that they be prepared to face some grim realities, including hospitalizations and even deaths.

In a July 1 email to Silliman College residents when Yale first announced its plan to reopen on-campus housing, Head of College and psychology professor Laurie Santos warned Yale’s “community compact” was not to be taken lightly, treated like some course readings and skimmed for main ideas. She explained that some staff members are from sectors of society that are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, and that they do not have the choice of whether to come to campus. At the time, Yale was planning to test returning students once per week — a plan that the University modified several weeks later, when it announced that it would instead test students twice weekly.

“We all should be emotionally prepared for widespread infections — and possibly deaths — in our community,” Santos’s email reads. “You should emotionally prepare for the fact that your residential college life will look more like a hospital unit than a residential college.”

Somber indeed.


  1. rgmani says

    Hi Mano, sorry to go off topic here but if I am not mistaken, you are now in the Santa Cruz area. I hope the fires have not affected you.

  2. machintelligence says

    Will there be fresh outbreaks that cause everything to shut down again? I think you can count on it.

  3. Matt G says

    I wouldn’t worry about Yale. I’m sure they stocked up on hydroxychloroquine after one of their epidemiologists promoted it in that highly esteemed, peer-reviewed journal Newsweek….

  4. Mano Singham says

    rgmani @#1,

    Thanks for the concern. The fires are pretty bad but not that close to me that I am concerned about the need to evacuate -- yet! However the smoke from the fires has created a haze over the area and there is a dust of fine ash on the ground. I have stopped taking walks in order to avoid breathing it.

  5. Ridana says

    Here, we’re just sitting in a bowl where all the smoke wafts down from the mountains from all directions. After more than a week of 100°F+ temperatures and no a/c, it’s really beginning to feel like the End of Days, when I look outside and everything is sepia under a blood-orange sun. Like the world itself is becoming Trump.

  6. Who Cares says

    The local university here just started its opening/introduction week. None of the activities are close or physical (which is a bummer seeing the things that the mechanical engineering department normally does, they make physics fun and usually very, very wet)
    Students are required to wear a bracelet. Losing the bracelet is not a good way to start the school year. They patrol the places where students most likely go for a drink or party. If the patrol sees a bracelet they take it. That is how serious they take it. Go to a high risk area and you don’t need to get back with the risk of infecting others.
    And there is talk of doing something like this after the first week but then with denial of access to the university terrain if people live on the campus then it will be house arrest. So yes it is possible to do something about off-campus behavior. Won’t stop them off-campus but it will stop them from contaminating the campus itself. And if they are stupid (which most of them are since they are young ;-> ) get caught when they need to have access to something that they can’t get online.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *